Ford patent application reveals plan to remotely lock people out of cars for missed payments

There may be more to the Ford Motor Company’s enthusiasm for self-driving cars than a drive to advance technology as a newly published patent application revealed plans on what they might install to handle missed payments.

With the introduction of vehicle access services like OnStar that allowed cars to be locked or unlocked and even turned on or off remotely, speculation that such capabilities would be used against the owner was not far behind. Now, as Ford proudly promotes their “top-rated active driving assistance system” BlueCruise, a more than 18-month-old patent application revealed how they could repossess the vehicle if payments are missed.

On Feb. 23, 2023, the United States Patent Office published the Aug. 20, 2021 application by Ford Global Technologies that “generally pertains to systems and methods to repossess a vehicle.”

The 14-page document included diagrams and descriptions detailing a progression in communications that would ultimately result in the car driving itself to a lending institution or repossession agency should the owner fail to respond to notifications of delinquent payments.

“When an acknowledgement is not received within a reasonable period of time, the first computer may disable a functionality of a component of the vehicle or may place the vehicle in a lockout condition,” the abstract detailed and noted for safety concerns, “The lockout condition may be lifted momentarily in case of an emergency to allow the vehicle to travel to a medical facility.”

The patent went on to describe the escalation that might occur following missed payments wherein the stereo could first be utilized to “emit an incessant and unpleasant sound every time the owner is present in the vehicle.”

After the patent was published, Ford released a statement that explained, “We don’t have any plans to deploy this,” and detailed that in 2022 they were granted 1,342 patents.

To further support the idea that patent applications were not directly correlated to installment plans, Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood told the Detroit Free Press, “We submit patents on new inventions as a normal course of business but they aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans.”

Worth noting, within days of the patent publication, Ford’s social media took to promoting the company’s active driver-assistance systems with advertisements and a real-world demonstration of the technology.

Also of note, Cox Automotive reviewed the delinquency rates in the automotive industry and found a 20.4 percent increase in borrowers at least 60 days behind on payments in January over the year prior. Overall, defaults had increased by 33.5 percent from 2022, and these rates, the highest measured since 2006, had led to an increase in repossessions of 11 percent.

All that to say, while it may not be in their immediate plans, Ford is likely to seriously consider the use of this technology should the economy continue struggling.


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